Episode 75

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has also owned and operated his own agency. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an active agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year, give him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — he has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”



What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • A CPA I recently met in San Diego who built his life around being able to go surfing every day
  • An exercise a coach I had about 10 years ago would put me through so that I would envision my future as if it had already happened
  • Why my life would not look like it does today if 10 years ago I had not visualized what I wanted it to look like today
  • Why it’s okay if everything doesn’t play out exactly the way you visualize
  • How to do the Reporter Exercise my coach gave me (linked below)


The Golden Nugget:

“No one on this planet has a better shot to build the exact life that they want than you do.” – @DrewMcLellan Share on X “Do you even have any idea what your ideal life looks like? The time to figure it out is now.” – @DrewMcLellan Share on X “Get really clear about what your dream is and then put a plan in place to slowly get there.” – @DrewMcLellan Share on X


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Speaker 1: If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25+ years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.


Drew McLellan: Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today is one of my solo casts, so no guests today. Just you and I hanging out, talking about something that’s on my mind that I want to make sure is within your sphere of consciousness. So going a little off track today. A lot of times when I do a solo cast, I’m talking about something very specific around agency management. And I want to ask you to indulge me, for me to go a little bit off the beaten path today.


  I don’t know if you can hear it or not, but behind me is the sound of crashing waves. I’m in San Diego, actually on Pacific Beach. I’ve been here all week, meeting with agency owners. And it’s been a great week. But every morning, I’ve been getting up early, and I have been going for a walk before my meetings. And the hotel that we stay at is literally right on the boardwalk and the beach. And so one of the things that’s been fun to do is morning, noon, and night, there are surfers out on the water. And so I’ve had a good time watching them.


  As I was on my walk the other day, I had got into a conversation with a surfer. We greeted each other as I was walking by. And it was about six in the morning, Pacific Coast time. And so I said, “Gosh, it’s early to be out here.” And he said, “Yeah. Well, I have to get it in early because I have to be at work at eight.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, I’m a CPA.” And I said, “Really?” And I said, “But you come out of here every day?” And he was like, “Yeah. I’ve built my whole life around being able to do the things that I love. And one of the things that I love the most to surfing. And so at least five mornings a week, I get up at five. I come out here. I’m on the water by six. I surf for about an hour. And then I head home and I shower, and I head out to work.”


  And our conversation went on from there. But it just struck me how intentional he was about building his life, and how he had really identified what mattered to him. And nothing was going to get in the way of him doing what he loved to do. And then I got to thinking about an exercise that I had done many years ago. So I was working with an executive coach, and this was before I owned AMI. So I owned my agency and I had owned it for, gosh, 15 or so years. But I had not stepped into the ownership or the leadership role at AMI yet. So I figure it was 10 years ago.


  And he took me through a series of exercises. And I will share with you that exercise in the show notes. And basically it was, I had to put myself in a head space where I was talking about the future as though it had already happened. So he put me into the head space, where I think it was going to be 2015 or 2020. And a reporter was coming to interview me and was asking me a series of questions. And I can remember doing the exercise. And I got to tell you, I totally got into it.


  The key to doing this exercise, and I’d love for you to do it, the key to the exercise is you have to really suspend today. And you have to really put yourself into your future self’s position, and see exactly what you would like your life to be, and what you would like it to be filled with, and what you want to be doing. And the questions are very specific around work and workplace, and who you serve, and the kind of work you do. And also what the rest of your life is like. What do you do in your leisure time, and who you spend time with?


  And if you listen to my earlier podcast, probably, I don’t know, maybe five or 10 weeks ago, about the five people that you surround yourself with. Those kinds of questions. And I can remember going through the exercise and completely immersing myself into it. And I got to tell you, the reality that I created back in ’07, or whenever I did it, was dramatically different than the reality I was actually living. And as I stepped through that exercise, I got really clear about what I wanted my life to be.


  And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I had a lousy life, or I couldn’t feed my family, or things were bad. I was happy where I was, but it clearly wasn’t where I wanted to end up. There was more that I wanted to do. And I will tell you, and I know you’re going to think this is crazy, but when I go back, so I review that every year, and at even ’08, ’09, 2010, all of a sudden, I was starting to make decisions and I was starting to move towards that reality.


  And now, today, when I read those documents, because it’s a big, long series of questions, it’s multiple documents. When I read that document, I would say 95% of what seemed ludicrous to even dream of a decade ago, is my daily life today. I am working with the kind of people that I want to work with. I am serving them. I can remember one of the elements in the reporter exercise that I did. One of the things I talked about was that I wanted to create some online courses, because I wanted to have passive income, where I didn’t have to be in a specific place at a specific time, to make money. And I can remember thinking, “I have no idea how to do that.” Well, you know what? We’re getting ready to launch my second online course for AMI in the next month.


  So even the things that seemed completely out of it reach, actually weren’t and aren’t. And so here’s my message to you. There is no one on this planet who has a better shot at building the exact life that they want, than you do. Odds are, if you’re listening to this, you own your own business, or you’re in a leadership position inside an agency, and you have so much more control over your life, over your earning potential, over where you live, how you live, where you work, how you work, you have so much more control over all of that than the average person. If you can’t do it, no one can.


  But here’s my question for you. Do you even have any idea what that ideal life is? Do you know where you want to work, and who you want to serve, and how you want to make a living, and how you want to spend your leisure time? Are you the CPA who knows that he wants to be on the water and in the water surfing, every single day? Or do you have some vague idea that you’ll figure it out, down the road sometime?


  And you know what? The time to figure it out is now. The time to lay the plan is now. The time to begin to make decisions about what that looks like is now. I’m not going to get all woo-woo, new age on you. But I’m telling you, being clear about your intentions is the first step to having the life that you want. And as you know, if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time, I am adamant that you should have an amazing life.


  You’ve taken all the risks of owning your own business. You have all these people, if you have employees, who literally sit on your shoulders and count on you to pay their mortgage and put their kids through college, every single month. You have taken on the weight of the world. The very least the world owes you in return is a life worth living. But you get to define what that life is. You have to define what that life is, and you need to do that today.


  I’m telling you, when I go back and I look at what I wrote 10 years ago, and I can remember working with my coach at the time, and writing it and saying to him, “This is crazy. It sounds awesome, but I have no idea how I would do this.” And his advice to me was, “Just keep seeing it and keep dreaming it, and we’ll figure out how to get you there. But first, we have to be really clear on the dream.” And he was absolutely right.


  When I think back to how far I’ve come, and you know what? Along the way, I didn’t even know I was taking those steps. Sometimes it was conscious. Sometimes I would read that and go, “You know what? I do want to make this decision.” But a lot of times, just having that very, very clear picture in my head of knowing where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, I have no doubt influenced the decisions I made for both the agency side of my business, and the AMI side of my business. That have now allowed me today, to really tell you when I read through that, almost all of it has either come true or I’m close to it.


  And it’s interesting. Some of them aren’t exactly the way I thought they would play out. So one of the elements that I wanted was I wanted to do a lot of speaking at conferences and things like that, but I thought it would be about marketing. That was what I wrote about. But really, now what I do, as you know, is I’m all over the globe, talking and teaching about running an agency. So I am doing it. I am speaking at conferences. I am creating thought leadership pieces. I am being paid to share my expertise, and to coach and to teach. It’s just not on the topic that I thought.


  So everything didn’t play out exactly how I thought it would. But dang, it is close. And I have a life today that back then, was just a dream. And today is my daily reality. I have my version of being out on the water every day and surfing. But the only reason I haven’t is because I got really clear about what it was, and then I put a plan in place to slowly get there. It’s not an overnight sort of thing. Don’t get me wrong. And it’s not that my life is perfect, or that there aren’t things that I still want to accomplish or tweak or change. But I am a lot closer, because I took the time to craft out the vision and the dream. And that’s what I want you to do.


  I want you to be really clear about what your life can be. And this isn’t just your work life. This is about your life. This is about how and where and when you engage with your family. It is about where you live. It’s about who you surround yourself with. It’s about where you spend your money. It’s about who you help. It’s about your entire life. And most people, and you and I know this, most people just go through life one step after another, and they are just marching to the end, even though they’re not sure what the end is. I don’t want that for you. And you are uniquely set up to not have to suffer that fate. You are uniquely positioned to craft the life that you want and move yourself towards it.


  So here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go to the show notes, and I want you to download this exercise, and I want you to fill it out. And it is going to take some time. So the way this exercise works is it really is an all-or-none sort of exercise. You have to fully embrace it, or it won’t work. If you censor yourself, if you say that’s crazy, if you put limitations on what’s possible, you’re not going to create the vision that you need it to be.


  But basically, you sit down and you say it’s five years from now, or it’s 10 years from now, and you’re being interviewed by this reporter. And I want you to answer every question with as much detail and richness as you can. When I did this, every answer to each question was a few pages long. So it’s not a single sentence sort of activity. It is a really soak on it and think about it. And you have to suspend reality. It’s like, if I could create the perfect ideal life, what would it be? How would I answer this question?


  And try not to look ahead at the questions, try to take them one at a time. Answer them fully. Give yourself ample time to think about it. So maybe read the question, and let it just soak or marinade for a couple of days before you sit down and you write the answer. Find a quiet space for yourself, and really take the time to answer the question with as much detail and as much vision, in terms of what is possible, as you can.


  So I spent about six weeks on this exercise, because I wanted to soak on each question. And I wanted to really be able to capture my vision in my head, so that I could articulate it on paper. And I think what you’re going to find is once you really dig into this and you immerse yourself into it, it becomes very real. And then it’s about how do you start to move towards that vision? So please, I’m hoping that you will go to the show notes, that you will download this exercise, and that you will figure out what is your version of the surf? And what do you need to do to get there?


  You’ve worked hard your whole life. You’ve taken all of these risks. You deserve to have an amazing life. And I don’t want you to start chasing that amazing life when you’re in your 60s or 70s or 80s. I don’t care how old you are right now. I want you to start chasing it today. And I want you to get as close to it as you can, as soon as you can. And it starts with understanding where it is. What is that old phrase? You begin with the end in mind. I think it was Stephen Covey who said that. I want you to begin with the end in mind.


  So please, go to the show notes. Download this exercise, and figure out what your surf is, so that you can get there and you can enjoy it every day, like my new CPA friend does and like I get to, because you deserve it. Thank you for listening. Thanks for indulging me. I know this was a little different than my normal podcast and than my normal solo casts. And I hope it was helpful. And I hope you understand that it’s all part of a bigger picture. We work hard because we want to have a certain kind of life. And I want you to have that kind of life.


  I will be back with you next week, with a guest. And we will probably get into the nitty gritty of running agency again. But for this week, I just want you to think about your life and what’s possible, and what you really want it to be. If this podcast is useful to you, I hope that you have subscribed, so you don’t miss an episode. As you know, we come out every week with a new episode, usually with a great guest who has some insight about how to run your business better. And every once in a while, you have to just listen to me, like you did this episode. So I appreciate that.


  If you are finding the podcast valuable, couple of things. One, feel free to shoot me an email if there’s a topic that you would like me to explore, and if it’s an area that I have some expertise in, or I can find someone who has expertise in it. I’m happy to do that. Just email me at [email protected].


  Also, if you would go to a Stitcher or Google or iTunes, and if you would leave us for rating and a review, I would be really, really grateful. I read every one of them. I’m humbled by them, but it really helps us get on the radar screen of more folks, which is my goal. So if you would do that for me, I would be most grateful. Have a great week. Please do this exercise, so you can have a great life. And I will be back next week. Talk to you soon.


Speaker 1: That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free ebook, and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible, here on Build a Better Agency.